Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders understands the advantage experience plays in the Johnson County Girls Basketball Tournament.

Experience, after all, is a big reason why the Trojans have won three of the past four county tournaments, including the previous two.

And experience is a big reason why Sanders doesn’t perceive Center Grove as the favorite heading into tonight’s first-round opener against visiting Indian Creek.

With only one returning starter, and only three games under their collective belt, the Trojans haven’t exactly peaked in a season that is barely underway.

“That’s kind of I think why we’ve been successful the last couple years, just because we’ve had a lot of veterans, girls who were two- or three-starters, or even four-year starters,” Sanders said. “For us this year, we’re a little younger, a little inexperienced.

“Over half our team played on the JV last year.”

So who, then, is the favorite in what appears to be a wide-open field?

If seeding is the indicator, No. 1 Greenwood sports the bulls eye. Featuring one of the state’s top players in senior Holly Hoopingarner, the Woodmen are experienced, deep and undefeated at 4-0.

But the Woodmen aren’t the only capable team in the six-team field.

Second-seeded Whiteland returns every starter from last season and is off to a 1-1 start. Featuring one of the area’s top post players in 6-foot-2 sophomore center Mackenzie Blazek, the Warriors are coming off an impressive win last Friday at area power Franklin Central are are confident of challenging for the title.

Then again, Indian Creek is confident of the same thing. Featuring one of the area’s top all-around players in senior Candace Danz, the unseeded Braves return four starters from last season and are off to a 4-0 start.

“If we can catch some breaks and come together, I think we can really make some noise,” Braves coach Dan Burkman said. “I’m excited for the county tournament.

“I think anybody can win the county tournament, and this year I think we’re definitely in that hunt.”

Franklin coach Walt Raines thinks the same thing about the Grizzly Cubs.

Although they have only one senior, the Cubs (1-1) return five players with starting experience and are coming off an impressive win against Brebuef. They play a first round game tonight at Edinburgh (1-2).

“These kids have played a lot since they were freshmen. They’ve played a lot of minutes the last two or three years,” Raines said. “They’ve got the experience. They know what to do.”

So, apparently, do the top-seeded Woodmen. Unbeaten under first-year coach Lee Taft, they are bidding for their first county title since.

But they are taking nothing for granted.

“Just like every other team, we’ve got a long ways to go,” Taft said. “We’re still not where we want to be, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to be at our best right now. We still don’t have everything in.

“It should be a fun tournament.”

Sanders agrees.

“We’re definitely not anywhere close to peaking right now. We’re still learning,” he said. “We’re growing together, learning what we need to do to get better together.

“We’re learning how to play together, learning what each other can do, learning our roles.”

If you go

What: Johnson County Girls Basketball Tournament

Tonight’s first-round games: 7 p.m., Indian Creek at Center Grove; 7 p.m., Franklin at Edinburgh

Friday’s semifinals: 6 p.m., Whiteland vs. Indian Creek/Center Grove winner; 7:30 p.m., Greenwood vs. Franklin/Edinburgh winner.

Saturday’s consolations/championship: 6 p.m., third-place game; 6 p.m., fifth-place game; 7:30 p.m., championship.

Admission: $5 per session

Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2715.